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Hike: Prehistoric rock carvings on the slopes of an ancient volcano just outside Oslo

Since ancient times, the environs of Oslo have been inhabited, and for good reason. The lengthy expanse of the Oslo Fjord provided shelter from the elements, boasting a more stable climate compared to the tumultuous weather of the west coast. Moreover, in yesteryears, the Oslo Fjord teemed with vast quantities of fish. Evidence of this abundance lies in the myriad rock carvings discovered in the vicinity of Oslo. Let's delve into some of these ancient depictions, accessible for your own exploration. By the end of this little article, you will know:

  • How to reach the rock carvings

  • Their (potential) significance

  • Key observations to make

Rumors had reached my ears of prehistoric rock carvings nestled just a stone's throw (pun intended) away from my house, a mere three kilometers as the crow flies. Yet, strangely, I had never bothered to ascertain their precise location until last week. As a great lover of historical sites in Norway, it is with slight shame to admit not knowing my close surroundings.

To my surprise, the journey was simpler than anticipated. From Oslo, you board bus 150 heading towards Gullhaug, where you'll get off that same bus at Steinskogen Gravlund. From there, consult 'Dalbo' on your Google Maps, cross the road with care, and proceed along Daeliveien, leading directly to the several rock carving sites, clearly indicated with signage. Alternatively, you can opt for the metro to Gjettum, accessing Daeliveien from the opposite direction. Assuming familiarity with signage and rudimentary navigation skills via Google Maps, the journey should be rather straightforward. And if not, ask a local! Norwegians like to help out and point directions.

What sets these rock carvings apart, uniquely Scandinavian, is the depiction of a large rowboat manned by over 20 rowers. Presumably a war vessel, it's also plausible that such longships were utilized for fishing expeditions, given the erstwhile abundance of fish in the Oslo Fjord. Regrettably, contemporary times have witnessed a stark decline in marine life within the fjord due to severe pollution from sewage, agricultural runoff, and overfishing. However, in antiquity, the fjord thrived with life and bio diversity, with fishing serving as a primary food source for the local tribes.

The interpretation of rock carvings remains ambiguous, subject to varying hypotheses among archaeologists. It has been posited that these carvings may demarcate territorial boundaries, serve as conduits for rituals, or invoke favor from higher powers, particularly the animal depictions, believed to enhance hunting luck. The initial rock carvings at Dalbo were unearthed in 1959, comprising numerous ship motifs, circles, and footprints spread across ten distinct areas.

Ancient rock carvings in Norway
One of many rock carvings at Dalbo

At Gjettum, rock carvings were first discovered in the 1970s, with additional findings in the 1990s. Multiple rock art sites feature abundant ship motifs, footprints, images of horses and the like. Presently, these sites are obscured by turf and challenging to locate, a fortunate circumstance considering the propensity of certain individuals to leave their mark, something we would now call vandalism. Thankfully, the past two decades have seen no further damage inflicted upon the rock carvings. Hence, it is imperative to refrain from defacing or trampling upon these ancient relics. Both out of respect for those from ancient times, as well present day humanity.

I must confess, a sense of reverence overcame me upon beholding the rock carvings last week. It's profoundly moving to contemplate how our European forebears etched their existence onto these stones, now imprinting upon our collective consciousness. These carvings afford a remarkable glimpse into bygone eras, bridging temporal chasms and rendering the distant past palpably proximate.

In addition to the rock carvings, this locale boasts a rich tapestry of history. Should you fancy a brief ascent, consider scaling the Gråmagan Bygdeborg. Unsure of the route? Download the UT.NO app for precise directions.

In essence, a bygdeborg denotes a prehistoric defensive structure typically erected atop elevated and strategically positioned hills or cliffs. Constructed at various junctures throughout history, these fortifications served diverse purposes contingent upon their contextual milieu. Typically featuring palisades, ramparts, ditches, or a combination thereof, bygdeborger afforded protection against incursions. They might also incorporate ancillary defenses such as fortified gates, towers, or catapults to repel adversaries. At times, bygdeborger doubled as dwellings or communal gathering sites, alongside their defensive function.

Upon reaching the remnants of the Gråmagan Bygdeborg, the clarity of its strategic placement becomes immediately apparent. Commanding a breathtaking view on Oslo, the Oslo Fjord, and the surrounding hinterlands, the site affords unparalleled vantage points to anticipate potential threats and warn the settlements below. It reminded me a bit of the beacons of Gondor, perhaps an empty reference for those unversed in the lore of Middle-earth, the panoramic view alone justifies the modest ascent.

For those of you being geology-nerds, the Gråmagan Bygdeborg is situated upon the flank of an ancient dormant volcano, testament to the volcanic activity that once characterized this region hundreds of millions of years ago. For those of you interested in rockcarvings and planning a longer journey beyond the Norwegian capital, there is an abundance of beautifully preserved rock carving sites across the country. And do have a look at the article I wrote about rock carvins in Alta.


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